Putting vision back into higher education: A response to the Government White Paper

There is no government mandate for the privatisation of higher education and for the despoiling of the social and cultural value of universities.

Academic staff and students from across the sector and in a variety of campaigning groups – Campaign for the Public University, Oxford University Campaign for Higher Education, Sussex University Defends Higher Education, Warwick University Campaign for Higher Education, Humanities Matter, No Confidence Campaign, Cambridge Academic Campaign for Higher Education – have written a trenchant response to the Government’s White Paper. 

 This document – Putting the Vision Back into Higher Education – is also a call for contributions to an Alternative White Paper to be published at the end of the Government’s consultation period in September.  This will be presented to the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, together with the weight of opinion in its support.

The response to the White Paper argues that:

  • It threatens the excellence of higher education in England. It does not put the student at the ‘heart of the system’, but the market.
  • It cuts direct public support for undergraduate degrees by 80%, and by transferring costs to students via higher fees it succeeds in providing fewer resources for most degrees while requiring students to pay more.
  • It is a reckless gamble, a dangerous experiment in university funding with no precedent in British experience. Its different elements are incoherent.
  • While the Browne Review advocated a new funding model because of uncertainty over public funding, the present proposals will not produce stability. The uncertainty is switched to the ballooning student support arrangements necessary to maintain a fee-based system of loans and the Government’s overriding interest is now to reduce their cost.
  • It has parallels to the privatisation wrecking the financial solvency of high-quality public universities in the US (such as the University of California, where net private revenues have not covered the public funding lost through cuts despite upwardly spiralling tuition costs).
  • It had no vision for higher education, only a narrow emphasis on employment and education as an individual investment in human capital.
  • It is necessary for higher education to “sustain a culture which demands disciplined thinking, encourages curiosity, challenges existing ideas and generates new ones; [and to] be part of the conscience of a democratic society, founded on respect for the rights of the individual and the responsibilities of the individual to society as a whole” (Dearing Report, 1997).

Please email contributions for the Alternative White Paper to: altwhitepaper [AT] live.co.uk by 2 September 2011.

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